Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Epic Romeo and Juliet Joint Project

I've been talking about this project over the past few months and it is finally ready to start. On Monday, my students will begin the most ambitious project I have ever put together.

Last summer, I went to Denver to experience the fun of ISTE. I was able to meet Shannon Miller from Van Meter and an amazing friendship started. I had an idea for a Romeo and Juliet Project, but after talking with Shannon and English teacher Shawn Hyer, we thought it would be cool to work together.

The students of Grosse Pointe South and Van Meter high schools are going to put together a joint production of Romeo and Juliet! Using all of the web tools available, the students are going to act, direct, write, design props, create costumes and everything else over the next 10 week.The acts have been divided and the students are excited.

Below is a the Slide Share of the handout that explains the different roles the students will have. One of my favorite parts of the project is that every student will be blogging about their experience during the process. Actors will write about their lines, directors will write about their visions for their act and the advertising team will post their ads and explain the thought process behind their creation.

When everything is filmed, we will have a joint viewing party Saturday April 30th. I hope to set up a U-Stream of the event, but I'm not sure how that is going to work just yet. The goal of the joint viewing is to have the students run a backchannel while watching the movie. It will be interesting to hear what kids think about the final product.

I will be keeping a running blog on how the project is going and I will also provide links to the student work when they get up and running. I'm excited about the various curve balls that are going to be coming my way.

Please leave comments, questions and/or suggestions below. I'm excited to hear what you think.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

My Dream Tech Plan

My Dream Tech Plan

I've been thinking about the way that schools deal with technology integration. I've spent time talking to teachers from all over the country to see how they use technology in their schools and how it is implemented. After these conversations are started to think about what might work best for teachers and students. I think I've come up with a pretty good plan to help districts ensure that teachers are receiving the support they need to instruct students and use these valuable pieces of technology they are purchasing and placing in classrooms.

This plan seems like it would work great in my district, but it might not be the exact fit for your district. Feel free to take these ideas and adjust them for your school system. Let me know if you do, because I would love to hear how it works. :-)

I've broken up the Technology Department into 4 levels. Each level has a very specific role. These job concern the implementation and support of new and existing technologies in a district. 

District Technology Director

This is the administrator of the Technology Department. It is important that this is the only job this person does. I have heard about other districts that lump this job in with others. The phrase, "Jack of all trades and master of none" comes to mind. Organizing the implementation of technology across the district is a full time job if it is expected to be done well. Attending conferences, visiting other districts using various tools, visiting schools and working with other members of the department will be time consuming. To ensure that the DTD can do a great job, technology needs to be the main focus.

The DTD should also work closely with the School Board, Superintendent and building Principals. Advising the Superintendent and the School Board on technology purchases and installation is necessary so all parts of a school district are on the same page. It is important for the DTD to be the expert when it comes to the various types of technology a district is considering. The DTD should also work closely with building Principals. Every building has different needs and its important to keep in contact with the Principals to see if there is anything building specific that might be needed.

The DTD will also work closely with 3 District Technology Coordinators.

District Technology Coordinators

District Technology Coordinators are teachers that will be assigned to 3 grade level groups. One will be assigned to K - 4, another will be assigned to 5 - 8 and the last one will be assigned to 9 - 12. It is very important that these teachers are currently teaching in the grade level groups they are assigned. Technology use by First Graders is very different from technology use by Sixth Graders and very different from technology use by Twelfth Graders. One person should not be in charge of helping other teachers in all grade levels. Again, the "Jack of All Trades" concept comes into play. Also, as current teachers, they will be able to help others by showing them example lesson plans.

The DTCs will focus on tech implementation and professional development for their grade level groups. They will each be in charge of a blog specific for their grade level group providing tech tips and tools. I currently run a blog for my school district and post every other week. I try to find all different levels of tools, games and lessons, but it is not easy. As a High School English teacher, I do not know what a 5th grade Math or Science teacher might need or use in the classroom. By having blogs dedicated to the 3 different grade level groups, teachers will know the updated blog will be something for their grade level. It makes sharing easier for teachers across the district.

The DTCs will also be responsible for working with Building Technology Coordinators.

Building Technology Coordinators

It is important that each building has a teacher that is responsible for coordinating the Professional Development for technology and provide tech support for teachers during the school year. The BTCs are crucial to this system. They are the ones that are going to work with teachers every day to help implement technology. These are the teachers that are going to have the greatest direct impact on technology integration in a school. Too often, professional development is a half day of sessions with little to no support for teachers after the day is over. We would never teach a student this way, so why teach teachers this way?

The BTCs will work closely with the DTC to provide them with tech tools that teachers are interested in and want to use in the building. BTCs will also coordinate PD with the BTCs to ensure that all building are on the same page. If possible, these teachers should have a technology period. This time would be set aside to all the BTC to help teachers with various technology questions. I was given a technology period during lunch. This way I could move my lunch so I could help various teachers during their lunch time. If that doesn't work, establishing "Tech Office Hours" before or after school would be another good way to support different teachers who might need extra help with various tools.

The BTCs will be responsible for bringing all of the teachers in the building up to speed on the different tech tools in the building. It is not an easy job and they should not be expected to have everyone on board by the end of the first school year, but they are key in moving a building, and a district, into the 21st Century.

Here is a diagram my 5 year-old nephew drew from me.

Actually, I drew it. While the art might not be super awesome, the pyramid shaped diagram shows the process of helping teachers and staff. There could be another step to this diagram. The teachers and staff would be responsible for making sure students become proficient in the new forms of technology that the district is integrating. 


One of the first things a district administrator might say is, "It's an amazing idea, but how do we pay for all of these teachers?" A teacher might say, "This is easily the best tech plan ever thought of, but how are teachers going to be compensated for their extra work?" Those are great questions. Below are my ideas for compensation. 

The District Technology Coordinators - Compensation equal to a club adviser or coach. This will be a time consuming job for a teacher and it is important to pay them for their time. 

Building Technology Coordinators  - I think these teachers could be compensated with pieces of technology that would help make their job easier. An iPad or Netbook would be a nice way to show that these BTCs are appreciated. They could also use these tools to connect with other teachers in the district to coordinate and collaborate.

Final Thoughts

This plan is something that might not work everywhere for many different reasons. The reason I am sharing this is that it might spark a flame within a tech director, superintendent or other teachers to think about their district's tech setup. Integrating new technology using the same model from the 80's or 90's is going to hurt the teachers. The focus should no longer be teaching teachers just about email or how to turn on their Dell. The focus needs to be on teaching teachers the tools they need to instruct more effectively and then have them teach the students so they are ready for the next step in their educational or professional life.

What do you think? What did I leave out? Let me know in the comment box!

- @TheNerdyTeacher

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

StrataLogica - A Review

Full Disclosure:

StrataLogica gave me a free trial so I could review this product for the purpose of writing a blog post.

According to their website,

"Herff Jones | Nystrom maps, globes, atlases, and charts now come alive in an environment where teachers and students can actively engage with our multi-layered world and easily share content and collaborate in ways never before imagined. Completely web-based and powered by the Google Earth™ API, StrataLogica is designed for computers, projectors and interactive whiteboards. StrataLogica is supported on all major browsers and operating systems."

I've been able to play with this program for about a month and I have to say that I love it. There is so much to write about, but I'm going to focus on a few things that really stood out to me and got my creative juices going.


Maps, maps and more maps. That is the initial reaction I had when I started to use the program. There was a great video tutorial system that waled me through every step of the process. I think this was awesome because there will be teachers out there that might not be super tech savvy and these videos made it easy for me to figure out where to go and what to do. Some tools I have used have very limited tutorials, but StrataLogica does a good job making sure that a teacher feels comfortable out of the gate.

Welcome Page

Here is the welcome page of StrataLogica. You can see the Getting Started Tutorial button is big and yellow. You can always go back to it if there are questions  you might have. There are three options to choose from above the Tutorial button. Maps, Outline Maps and Library. 

The Library is where maps can be loaded or removed for student use. This is good if you want to keep student focused on specific content. It can also save them time if they know specifically what maps to go to.

Outline Maps are great for creating handouts as PDF files for students to do desk work. Individual US States can be uploaded with county lines. These PDFs can be printed or uploaded to class websites. I think it is always good to be able to give students hard copies of certain items and StrataLogica makes it very easy with the click of the PDF button. No screen captures are necessary for the Outline Maps.

The remainder of the post is going to be focusing the Maps portion of StrataLogica. At times, I have spent over an hour just messing around and looking at all of the bells and whistles. I was flooded with many different possible lesson ideas that would be great with students of all ages.

When entering the Maps portion of the site, there are a wide variety of maps to choose.The entire world, is literally at your fingertips (Even more so if you have an IWB!). This section provides a few thematic maps if you are studying growing seasons, rainfall or population density. There are also land cover, political relief, outline and Google Earth options as well. I had the most fun with Google Earth, but all of the maps are very high quality and would be wonderful in any classroom.

The Google Maps portion of StrataLogica is simply amazing. It works just like Google Earth, but there is so much extra you can do using StrataLogica's tools. StrataLogica allows any map that you use to be saved for later use. I thought it would be fun to find my school and mark my classroom.

I thought it was neat to be able to find where my school. I also started to think how neat it would be to use this in class with younger students. Kids could find their school and other notable landmarks in their community using this program. As different students log in and use the program, they could find various locations around their town and mark them using the very handy tools that StrataLogica provides.

The Tools

The first tool is a very simple pen tool. This enables people to draw on saved maps. I used mine to draw an arrow, but it could be used for anything a person wants. You do not need to use it to write because it would be tough with a mouse. If the computer is connected to an IWB though, writing with this tool would be much easier than going back to the computer to use the text tool. The pen offers various colors and different thickness for the pen. It is a very standard tool that is perfect for commenting on maps. 

Another great tool is the icon button. This allows users to place objects on the map. The objects range from numbers, buildings, stars and even weather symbols. Depending on the assignment, there are many different uses for the icon button.

Next is a very simple to use text tool. This is great for teachers and students to use while working on projects. I don't see this being used during a class discussion because it is always difficult to stop and type what the students are saying or to have the student come to the computer and type their answer. Again, the simplicity of the tool is what scores StrataLogica points in my book. They don't get in their own way when it comes to being user friendly. The text allows for different colors and 4 different fonts. I think it would be nice to have a few more fonts, but that is not a deal breaker. I was able to quickly type on the map and post it to the document.

The push pin icon is a great way to place markers on a map and leave notes. I can see this being used by students in the classroom for so many different types of lessons. A teachers could set up a global scavenger hunt where students have to follow the clues left on the map and jump from spot to spot on the globe. It is a simple icon to place anywhere on a map. Note can be left and read when the the icon is rolled over by the mouse. It might be my favorite tool because it takes something from the physical world of maps, pins, and brings it to the digital world in a very useful way.

The next tool is a ruler icon. This is a very neat tool that could come in handy in Geography class. In the picture below, I was able to measure Alcatraz Island. I was just curious and I was able to click and drag the the line the length of the island and get a measurement. That is just so cool for me. I think kids would have a blast with this feature. Teachers could have students measure the distance between their house and school after they have taken a guess. Other interesting assignments could come out of measuring distance with this tool. This could be great for math skills as well. The ruler tool is very easy to use and can be used in many different ways.

The search tool is the last tool on the tool bar and it might be the most useful. I played around with the search tool to find some key landmarks and my hometown. It is very simple to us and is very accurate. I typed in Eiffel Tower and it took me right to the landmark. Alcatraz was all I typed in and it took me right to the island. When spanning an entire globe, it can be tough to find everything you might need. This tool allows for quick searches from one place to another. The search tool is an obvious tool that StrataLogica integrates easily. 

Other Cool Stuff

There is tons of other cool stuff that I want to mention before I jump to some lesson ideas. The ability to share your saved maps is huge! I love that I can create a map and share it on Facebook, Twitter and e-mail. As a teacher, I can create maps and share them to the my class for them to use for assignments. This allows students to create maps for assignments and share them in class with other students and the teacher. The ability to share is an important feature of StrataLogica and it makes it easier to create diverse lessons. 

Google Historical Imagery has been recently added to the StrataLogica settings. This is very cool. Kids can now see what parts of the world used to look like. It is a small feature, but it could be very fun to let kids find images of places today and compare them with images from the past. Depending on the lesson, this could be a wonderful part of StrataLogica for a classroom.

The StrataLogica Community is a great map sharing part of the site. Teachers have uploaded maps, projects and lessons they have created for teachers to use in their classroom. This is great because it can save teachers time in the long run. Why reinvent the wheel when someone has a great map available. Simple searches will reveal many different maps and lessons for a new teacher to use and learn from so they can create better maps of their own.

Lesson Ideas

What I love most about StrataLogica is the the fact that any teacher can do just about anything they want with this product. Below are some ideas I came up with that would be very fun for students and teachers. 
  • I mentioned this above, but a scavenger hunt created by a teacher and shared to the students would make a fun in class activity. This could be done at the local level or using a specific country or region that the class has been studying. It would not take all day to create, but the students could spend time seeing the sites they have lived by or studied.
  • I remember having to memorize all of the states and their capitals. I was given a sheet and had to remember where everything went. I envision something similar, but a bit more interactive. Using an IWB, the US could be on the board and the class could be divided into teams with each taking a turn coming to the board and placing a capital on the map. This is just a little more fun than sitting down and filling out a form and getting a score.
  • For the high school classroom, I could see StrataLogica being for creating a personal history. Students could research their family tree and show where people have moved from generation to generation. Using the various icons available on the tool bar, students could show how their family has moved from place to place. They can use the pin tool to leave notes that provide a brief history as well. There are many different ways a teacher could go with this lesson
I wish I was back in Social Studies to use these lessons. I will have to get extra creative in my English classes to see how I can incorporate these tools into my lessons.


StrataLogica is not a free program and there different packages available for purchase. Prices range from $309.00 for the basic package to $549.00 for the deluxe package. All packages include 40 student accounts and a 5 year license. For a one time fee, students and teachers have access to all of the goodies and more for 5 years. I think that this is a great value for everything StrataLogica offers.

Final Word

I think StrataLogica is a great program that could do wonderful things in the classroom. Reading maps has never been more exciting and I'm just a 30 year old teacher. I think students can have fun and learn very interesting things using these maps. The price might seem too much, but if you consider the fact that you are paying for 5 years, the money is well worth it. I would encourage all Social Studies teachers and tech specialists to look into bringing StrataLogica to your school as soon as possible.

If you are ready to get started, head to StrataLogica and try out the Free Trial. Everyone I have talked to at StrataLogica has been wonderfully helpful and I'm sure they will help you in any way they can. Just tell them The Nerdy Teacher sent you.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Great Honors Debate

Once in a while I wake up with an idea and I have to work it through before my brain will let me sleep again. It can be frustrating at times, but I feel some of my best ideas are worked out this way. The latest issue that kept me up was the way the Honors program works in my school district. In the past, I have taught honors, traditional and remedial English classes. I’ve worked with the strongest and weakest of students. Over the past few years though, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in the traditional classes. As more and more kids strive to take an AP class, which is great, many students that do not want to take that track stay in the traditional classes. The problem I, and other teachers, are encountering is a brain drain for the lack of a better term.

In years past, traditional classes would be filled with various levels of students that would engage in discussions and debate themes and ideas. The students with a passion for reading in writing would spur the thoughts of their classmates that might not normally care for English. Now, with all of those engaged students being herded into Honors and AP, students that are not excited about reading and writing are left to sit in a class with no spark. These are not “dumb” students or special needs students. These are bright students that just do not care to discuss or debate the ideas or they all share the same ideas because they all take the same classes because of the tracking that happens at an early age.

I like to think I’m a halfway decent teacher. I have tried every way possible to engage the students in my class this year. They are a very bright group of students. They do the reading, they do the assignments, but they don’t want to talk about literature. The class lacks a spark that a teacher cannot bring on their own. As I was racking my brain at night, the only solution I can think of that I haven’t tried is to get rid of the Honors track completely.

My idea is to keep the honors curriculum in place and combine traditional and honors students into mixed classes. We would be raising the bar for our students and providing them support in the classroom by having students model good discussion and writing skills. Taking the strongest students and separating them from others doesn’t truly help the top students, it really hurts the students in the middle. The ones that might be interested but do not have the spark to get them going. These are the kids that get lost in the shuffle.

As we strive to make all student proficient and college ready by a randomly designated time frame, I think it is time to start looking at the way we have designed our classes. Do Honors classes really prepare the top students for college? I think that the Honors tracks end up hurting the middle students more than they help the top.

I presented my idea to teachers in my department and they loved the idea. There are logistical issues that would need to be worked out, but people liked the idea. When presented to the Principal, he was very receptive to the idea as well. The next step is convincing parents in the community. Parents have been the driving force behind the honors track in our district and it is going to be tough to convince them that the honors track hurts more students than it helps. Sadly, the students that would benefit most from this change usually don’t have the parents that are the loudest at board meetings. That is something I’m confident we can overcome as we strive to provide the best education for all of our students.

What are your thoughts? Do you think an honors track is needed now that we want all of our students to go to college? I would love to hear from you.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Project PLN's Passion Issue

Here is the February Issue of Project PLN. This month, teachers share their passion for education. Take a look and see why we love education so much. Next month, we are going to have posts by Librarians and Media Specialists. If you have a story on the importance of the Library in today's schools, please email them to or send us a tweet at @ProjectPLN.

- Nick and Kelly
Project PLN Co-Editors

Monday, February 7, 2011


I've been thinking about writing this post since the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl yesterday. Below is the Chrysler ad featuring Eminem and the city I love.

I felt chills when I saw the commercial. I was filled with pride as my city was shown to the world the way I, and many other Detroiters, see it.

This summer, I spent some time looking for venues to hold edcamp Detroit. I had the chance to have it at a couple of places outside the city limits in some very nice suburbs of Detroit. However, I couldn't bring myself to commit to anywhere else but The D. Edcamp Detroit needed to be in the city. If change is going to happen, it needs to start there.

This city has gone through so much over the past few decades and this post is not about placing blame on politicians, city councils or school boards. This post is about hope. That commercial was about hope. Edcamp Detroit is about hope. Hope in changing the educational system that is letting too many children down.

Eminem's song, "Lose Yourself" was the perfect song to choose for the video and the city. I think it is the perfect song for edcamp Detroit as well. Education is about the moment. The moment we have as teachers to connect with a student. The moment educators have to change the way we think to impact the lives of children in school districts across the country. As teachers, we need to seize these moments and make a difference. We have to start sometime. Why not now?

In May, teachers from all over the area are going to meet in the city that revolutionized transportation and try to revolutionize education. Is it a lofty goal? Yes, but I can think of no better place than Detroit to start. I was #MadeInDetroit.

- @TheNerdyTeacher

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Let's Go Exploring

I took another day off from Twitter the other day to catch up on work. I had an awesome time at #EduCon, but found myself behind in many different parts of my Nerdy life.

I dusted off my old resume the other day and noticed it needed a touch up. I needed to add all of the wonderful tech stuff I've been involved with over the past couple of years, my extra certifications, etc.  I was shocked to see everything I had my hand in at the moment. Edcamp, ISTE, MACUL, ProjectPLN and a new baby are just a few. Notice I didn't have my paying job on that list. I'm crazy busy and I didn't realize the impact it was having on the day to day me.

I have a serious problem. I can't say no to people. I want to help people. It's selfish. I like helping because it feels good. Maybe it's because I was kind of a turd growing up. I'm not really sure, but I am an eternal giver and have a hard time turning away from people who need help. It's obvious why I became a teacher. However, I'm learning that it is possible to be too helpful.

I've realized that Twitter has helped me establish an amazing PLN I can turn to when I need help. However, Twitter is starting to take up too much of my time. I find myself sitting and cruising my feed when I could be doing other things for other projects. I've always been a master procrastinator, but now I find myself putting too many things off until the last minute. I want people to be happy they asked me for help and I need to be able to give everyone my best. To do that, I need to make time budget cuts. Twitter is the spot where I feel I can make a cut. I'm not happy about it, but I feel I need to take a small break.

Now, I'm not suggesting that I'm going to sign off and walk into the digital sunset. I'm rededicating myself to my big projects and my future mini-nerd. I'm still going to be around. I'll be posting regularly on my blog, working tirelessly on #edcampDetroit, sharing Van Meter's and Grosse Pointe's Epic Romeo and Juliet project, and gearing up for ISTE. I will still stop in on #edchat, #ptchat, #engchat and other chats. These parts of of teaching life have grown out of my connection with all of you. I would not be The Nerdy Teacher without all your support. I want these projects to be amazing and I need to cut back in other areas so the stress doesn't get to me.

I posted the Calvin and Hobbes comic because he has always been sort of a role model for me. His creativity and passion for knowledge have always inspired me. The last comic in the series is one of my favorite. Calvin looks at fresh snow and sees a chance to explore a new world. Every new project and person I have met has opened up a new world to explore. I'm going to use some of my extra time to do some exploring.

- See ya later alligator

- Nick